Preoccupied with work

They are always preoccupied with work so that they may be in position to live better; they spend life in making provision for life. Their plans are designed for the future, but procrastination is the greatest waste of life. It robs us of each day as it comes, and extorts the present from us on promises of the future. Expectancy is the greatest impediment to living: In anticipation of tomorrow it loses today.

~ Seneca

Make hay

“Make hay while the sun shines,” is an old proverb; We’re still using it today, 500 years after it’s first written mention. It contains deep wisdom which counsels taking advantage of opportunities as they arise. It’s taken me a loong time to get used to the fact that what I see as an opportunity, and what I see as a chore, (or work—however you care to phrase that,) are quite fluid. There’s an ebb and flow to what I want to engage in. Some things which most [sane] people would consider a complete suffer-festival—”omg why would you want to do that?!”—are the things I skip happily towards when the proverbial sun is shining. A day or two later, the things I was skipping away from become the things I’m marching back towards to whistle while I work.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=83bmsluWHZc

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Let’s grab a kayak

Let’s grab a kayak to Quincy or Nyack
Let’s get away from it all

~ Lyrics by Tom Adair

The secret to life, of course, is to first get away from it all, then grab that kayak. Because wherever I go, there I find myself. The things that one wants to “get away from” are all things over which you exclusively have control. That stack of papers that should be filed… This mountain of debt… That broken air conditioning… Even really hard things like mortgages, needy pets, frenemies, toxic family members… you are in control of how you act and how you assess those things.

Have you truly and honestly examined the things in your life which are weighing on your mind?

You have? Great! That’s the easy part.

The hard part? Let go. Toss things out of your life. Realize the hearse has no luggage rack. 15,000 years from now nothing you did or worried about will matter at all. You have exactly this one lifetime. Apprehend why each thing is in your life and appreciate it, right now. Build things up. Help people. Create. …we humans are creatures meant for social interaction, of course. But no regrets. No could’a should’a would’a.

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No and yes

Because we can’t say no—because we might miss out on something if we did. We think “yes” will let us accomplish more, will give us more of what we want, when in reality it prevents exactly what we seek. All of us waste precious life doing things we don’t like, to prove ourselves to people we don’t respect, and to get things we don’t want.

~ Ryan Holiday from, https://dailystoic.com/how-to-say-no-advice-from-the-worlds-most-powerful-man/

Accepting and rejecting are two sides of the same coin. A lot—I contemplated writing “all”—of my problems came from being unable to intentionally say, “yes,” or being unable to intentionally say, “no.” When completely lacking the skill from either side of this coin, I’m a puppet for others. I’m one of those doormats that says, “WELCOME,” come on in and use me.

But simply developing both of the skills is not enough. I needed to learn to balance the skills; To balance the requirements of life with the pursuits of pleasure, leisure, and creativity. That requires a finer control of these, “yes,” and, “no,” skills.

I occasionally encounter people who speak of, “always saying, ‘yes and…’.” That’s utter nonsense. One can only say once to the pan-handler on the street asking for money, “yes, and take my house.” Or to the myriad of people clamoring for one’s attention online, “yes, and…” scrolling scrolling scrolling and… the whole hour is lost.

The mastery level of, “no,” and, “yes,” is to go beyond reacting to life—figuring out which tool to deploy in this situation—to intentionally using, “no,” and, “yes,” to navigate life.

Distraction, Busyness, Hurrying: No.

Discovery, Reflection, Efficacy: Yes, and…

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Doing what you love

But the fact is, almost anyone would rather, at any given moment, float about in the Carribbean, or have sex, or eat some delicious food, than work on hard problems. The rule about doing what you love assumes a certain length of time. It doesn’t mean, do what will make you happiest this second, but what will make you happiest over some longer period, like a week or a month.

~ Paul Graham from, http://www.paulgraham.com/love.html

There have been just a few bits about this topic arranged on the Internet. I’ve written several times here myself, and linked to many things like this one from Graham. The ultimate point that I’d like to make is simply that the necessary part of solving the problem for yourself is to ask yourself such questions.

If you’re simply going through life reacting to whatever you find before you, then any arm-chair, ivory tower, philosophizing about the meaning of life, one’s purpose, or finding one’s Life’s Work, is completely pointless. I’m not criticizing going through life in reacting mode; if one is crushed by situation or station, then you necessarily have your work cut out for you.

But presuming you have some slack—and be honest, you are on the Internet, so you have enough slack…

Presuming you have some slack, what questions are you asking yourself?

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Unlimited desires

You live as if you would live forever; the thought of human frailty never enters your head, you never notice how much of your time is already spent. You squander it as though your store were full to overflowing, when in fact the very day of which you make a present to someone or something may be your last. Like the mortal you are, you are apprehensive of everything; but your desires are unlimited as if you were immortal.

~ Seneca

Finding the balance

Too warm: Solve all the problems. Do all the things. Turn every idea into an action or object in the real world. And do it perfectly.

Too cold: Relax. Talk to people, occasionally. Read great books. Savor the moments between. How you do this one thing is how you do everything.

Just right:

…nope sorry I got nothing no way in the world I can possibly figure out what’s between these two extremes there’s nothing in the middle warm is perfect until it’s not cold is perfect until it’s not gee if only there was some way that one could find something that was hunh I don’t know maybe a little bit of both meh no warm is perfect oh wait no cold is perfect.

Right. It’s so patently obvious where the balance would lie. And yet, when I’m polarized one way or the other… now, where is that damn forest?! All these trees are blocking my view!

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Urgency

This is a topic I revisit often in my personal reflection. When I write, I sometimes remember to search my own site to see what else I’ve written on the topic at hand. Lose no time, is exactly as useful to me—hint: incredibly—as when I first wrote it.

I find that things go well once I’m heads-down tinkering away on some specific task. I’ve also learned, but relatively recently in my journey if I’m being honest, to enjoy myself at a relaxed pace in the times leading up to important things; that phone call in an hour, the doctor’s appointment tomorrow morning, etc. In those two cases where it quite clearly could, the urgency demon does not actually come knocking on my door.

As you’re expecting, I’m going to say that there is a third case where the urgency demon does show up, bites off my head, and dances on my chest: When I’m thinking. A thought drifts through the living room of my mind; “that’s a good point, I should do such-and-so about that.” Another thought arrives on the stoop and rings the bell; “oh, yeah that’s probably important and if I just nip it in the bud…” And another thought slips in with the second thought when I open the front door; “actually, I busted my ass on that and now I’m stuck waiting on…” Those three thoughts, now in my living room, realize it’s a party, they each message three friends, and nine new thoughts arrive; “I thought I had all this stuff under control [you should see my systems!] how are there a dozen of you partying in my house? …who brought music?!” Another thought streaks through unbidden; “hey wait, I totally know I had that sorted out, and you agreed to wear clothing…” The pizza delivery guy arrives to feed all the thoughts. Ride-shares queue up my block to pick up the drunken revelers barfing on my lawn. The cops do a second slow-roll after the third noise complaint. And how is there a bonfire in the yard?!

I eventually panic, and flee to food or distraction.

It’s not quite splitting; I sometimes do that, but knowing what it is makes it pretty easy to avoid. It’s not quite catastrophizing; again, been there, know what that is. I think it’s simply mental overload—in the sense of physical exhaustion combined with some feedback looping. The sure sign, for me at least, is when everything starts to seem urgent. When everything seems urgent, (and none of the things are actually urgent in the way choking or a heart attack are urgent,) that’s a sure sign to call, “bullshit!” and to walk—not run—to something other than thinking. Rather than wait until I panic and flee to negative distractions, I’m working on throwing my hands up much sooner at that party: “Well, this is clearly going to get out of hand. I’m outta’ here.”

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There is no trick

Stop searching for magic tricks. Roll up your sleeves and get to work. The fool will find this idea depressing. The wise person will find this liberating. So it goes.

~ Hugh Macleod from, https://www.gapingvoid.com/blog/2020/02/29/the-trick-is-there-is-no-trick/

No.

But I do still agree with Hugh.

You see, it’s really a paradox: Understanding that the trick is that there is no trick enables you to see the trick.

Only after you truly believe there is no trick, and you truly roll up your sleeves and get to work—and not just work for a day or a week or a year, but instead truly pour your entire self into something…

Only after you truly believe there is no trick, and you truly roll up your sleeves and get to work, can you understand what the trick really is.

Reading this now, you either know the trick—congratulations, honestly and I’m sorry you had to suffer along the way but look what you’ve learned…

Reading this now, you either know the trick, or you need to roll up your sleeves and get to work.

What? …you thought I was going to tell you the trick? But, I just did.

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Banish distraction

You and I impose order onto our days not to make ourselves stiff or rigid or wooden but in order render impotent the pull of the superficial and the random and the current. We fix our attention not on the petty opportunities and emergencies of the day but on our inner Polaris, even if it’s something as humble as a kiosk business we’re trying to launch or a free app we’re aiming to design. We banish distraction so that we can address our call, our Unconscious, the summons of our Muse.

~ Steven Pressfield from, https://stevenpressfield.com/2013/03/a-natural-life/

Some days the call—the summons of the Muse—is pleasant and I skip through my tasks. Some days it is not. No matter how many times I study the lesson, it’s still hard for me to believe in what can be accomplished through small daily advances.

Increasingly, (compared to, say, 20 years ago,) my body doesn’t cooperate, and some days my mind doesn’t cooperate. But on balance, I can say I’m making progress on the things which are important to me. I don’t expect to finish anything—you should see the book collection, for example—and that’s fine by me.

Chop wood; carry water. (Read a book. Watch a great movie. Jump on stuff. Go for a walk. Mix and season to taste…)

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